March 10, 2024

Kolkata Declaration: Scientific Temper in the Current Context

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A Statement on Scientific Temper was drafted through an iterative process involving leading scientists and social scientists at the initiative of the All India Peoples Science Network. The following is an edited version of the Declaration signed by around 200 Scientists adopted at a Convention on Scientific Temper held at Kolkata on 28 February 2024. The full Statement is available at

SINCE the Coonoor Statement on Scientific Temper in 1981 and the Palampur Declaration in 2011, there have been significant socio-political changes in India and around the world. Over time, movements promoting scientific temper in India have also evolved in accordance with changing public perceptions of science and technology (S&T).

New challenges have emerged in India and elsewhere in the world in the form of strong socio-political movements, backed by State power, that seek to oppose a scientific approach and evidence-based reasoning. Globally, a post-truth culture is spreading, marked by a deliberate spreading of ignorance, an anti-intellectual atmosphere, and diminished trust in science. It is ironic that technology, part of the umbrella of science, is being harnessed to support these trends through social media such that manufactured sentiment, prejudice, false narratives, baseless opinions and conspiracy theories gain acceptance.

The current situation requires a renewed commitment to robust evidence-based reasoning, drawing from accumulated knowledge in the natural and social sciences, and humanities, as well as from the know-how and rational experiences of working people. Such reasoning aligns with recognized methodologies of different disciplines, including emerging interdisciplinary research, applicable also in public discourse and understanding. Scientists and lay practitioners need to actively embrace and popularise these methods.

This contemporary statement on Scientific Temper has become essential to address present challenges in India. This statement shall not undertake a critical review of previous statements. Instead, it acknowledges past debates and critiques, incorporating their essence into the current statement. The focus here is on delineating the significant challenges for the constitutionally mandated task of promoting scientific temper, the spirit of inquiry, and humanism. Knowledge production and advancement through purposeful discovery and evidence-based reasoning, including thorough consideration of diverse opinions, is currently under severe threat in both academia and society at large.


The arena for fostering scientific temper has become increasingly contested, including from aggressive socio-cultural forces as well as from governmental policies and administrative measures antagonistic to scientific temper. The current situation in India demands critical understanding and action on three inter-related fronts: the role of the State and polity, the character and function of scientific research and academic institutions, and malign influences in society and among the general public.

Article 51A(h) of the Constitution speaks of the duty of citizens to promote scientific temper. There is concern in some quarters that corresponding responsibilities of the State have not been adequately highlighted. While it might be assumed that the State's primary responsibility is implicit, there is a need for a clearer delineation of the State's role.


In the initial post-Independence decades, the Indian State placed significant trust in scientists and scientific institutions. (Note: the terms ‘scientists’ and ‘scientific institutions’ are used here as terms denoting all natural sciences, social sciences and humanities disciplines, and those others following an evidence-based path of knowledge production and understanding). Development policies were evidence-driven, with research institutions and centres of excellence enjoying high priority and prestige, and substantial autonomy. Documents like the Industrial Policy Resolution and a unique Scientific Policy Resolution were foundational to planned development, guided by a multi-disciplinary group of experts in the Planning Commission. Independent scientists and social scientists, both from India and abroad, were involved in evidence-based policy-making. Notably, religion played a minimal role in state affairs, and secularism, defined as non-discrimination and equal respect for all religions, was practiced. However, the evils of casteism and communalism have never been eliminated.

However, in subsequent years, bureaucratism, elitism, and a techno-fix mentality crept into the system, creating something of a divide between scientists and the general public. Trust in scientific institutions also eroded as a perception grew that "establishment science" primarily served officialdom and corporate interests, rather than the public good as shown by verifiable data. Academic, professional, and informed activist voices critiqued official narratives, influencing public opinion and contributing to critical thinking and evidence-based policies. While the State may not have pro-actively cultivated scientific temper, it did engage with and support activities to popularise science. The State also provided space in governance and public discourse for non-official scientific, expert, and informed lay opinion.


Presently, the State displays a stark departure from this earlier stance. Government and its various organs now actively oppose a scientific approach, critical thinking and evidence-based policy-making. This antagonistic stance is communicated to the public through various means, spreading such attitudes. State support for research and development (R&D), already below comparable countries, has hit historic lows, raising serious concerns about India's future in the knowledge era. Domestic assembly industries are misrepresented as self-reliance, thus underplaying the need for research and knowledge production.

Funding, fellowships, and research face severe cuts in academic and research institutions which are also burdened by bureaucratic structures. Career advancement now depends on adherence to dominant ideologies, sycophancy, and obedience to government directives over domain expertise. Independent development data and India’s position in reputed international rankings are contested on spurious grounds. Similar data generated in India, even by government institutions, are manipulated to fit political narratives. Open discussions in higher learning institutions are discouraged, hindering critical thinking, pluralism, and academic freedom.

Beyond image management, these tendencies undermine a scientific approach, demoralising the knowledge production community.

The State and allied social forces directly undermine science and its methods among the public. Unscientific claims by prominent political figures, boasting of imaginary achievements and exaggerated ideas about knowledge in ancient India are used to build a hyper-nationalist narrative. These assertions are draped in quasi-religious cover so as to suppress dissenting voices. Such fanciful claims undermine the many actual substantial contributions of ancient India emanating from different cultural streams, covering intellectual as well as artisanal and technical accomplishments. Critics of such claims questioning both history and science are branded westernized and anti-national. Dissent and plurality of opinion, essential for intellectual progress, are under threat.


These trends are now being introduced into the education system, potentially influencing an entire generation. School textbooks and readings in higher education are undergoing revisions promoting the unquestioned superiority of knowledge in ancient India, while downplaying the contributions of other civilizations. Addressing Euro-centrism and acknowledging the contributions from ancient India, China, and other “eastern” civilizations is essential. But denying the emergence of modern science, technology and the industrial revolution, and the factors leading up to them, is untruthful and misleading.

The revised textbooks also omit chapters on crucial historical, societal, economic, and ecological issues in India. In an examination-oriented rote-learning system not fostering critical thinking, this will leave students ill-prepared for higher studies or research, and for their roles as informed citizens.

In higher education, mandatory courses on "traditional knowledge systems" are being introduced, presenting a-historical and distorted accounts of knowledge in ancient India. These courses exclusively glorify exaggerated notions about the Vedic-Sanskritic tradition, neglecting other cultural streams in ancient India and disregarding the significant generation of new knowledge in medieval India, clearly out of prejudice against particular religious-cultural streams. This deliberate rewriting of historical evidence perpetuates bias and a distorted view of syncretic Indian traditions and multi-cultural reality. This will result in incalculable damage to the progress of Indian science and to social harmony.


In recent times, India has witnessed the growth of socio-religious orthodoxy, traditionalism, and revivalism, fueled by majoritarian socio-political forces. Certain traditionalist religious-cultural practices, festivals, and communal forms of organisation have proliferated. Numerous "godmen" have emerged with substantial resources, following and often significant political backing. These cults, even if projecting high-thinking spiritualism, are propagating superstitions, pseudo-science, and socio-religious orthodoxy.

Today, social forces supported by the ruling establishment disseminate pseudo-science and a belief in mythology as history. False narratives are used to construct a unitary majoritarian religion and culture, contrary to the diversity even among the majority community. Vegetarianism is projected as a dominant "traditional" practice, contradicting evidence from scientific surveys conducted by official agencies.

During the COVID pandemic, superstitions and pseudo-scientific notions related to health were actively promoted under the guise of endorsing "traditional" health systems while implicitly or explicitly criticising modern medicine. Highly placed officials encouraged people to light lamps and clang utensils to ward off the virus, with social media amplifying purported "proof" of efficacy such as recording of "cosmic vibrations" by NASA, seeking to exploit the enduring respect of the people for science. Artificial creation of long-lost legendary ancient rivers is being undertaken to perpetuate mythology. The forces of unreason seek to sow confusion about evidence and scientific methods.

It is also important to address the idea that "other worldly" religious beliefs pose the only or major obstacles to fostering a scientific temper in India. Faith poses many questions which science or rationalism may not always be able to tackle, at least insofar as faith itself may be defined as belonging to a non-physical domain. Freedom of religion or individual faith may indeed therefore be duly recognised. At the same time, discriminatory practices, or those that impinge on others’ rights or affect public order, must be opposed, and their irrational basis explained. Obscurantism persists due to weaknesses in society itself, highlighting larger battles that need to be fought, of which promotion of a scientific temper is just a part. A more strategic and targeted approach is required to tackle the organised challenges to scientific temper discussed here.

We scientists and intellectuals across disciplines, activists and all individuals passionate about spreading a scientific temper, acknowledge that the struggle to promote a scientific temper is wide-ranging and embraces many dimensions. Yet we also understand that, given the grave threats posed in the current context, the major challenge in this period is to combat and roll back these threats. We re-attest the importance of working towards promotion of scientific temper in society. We appeal to like-minded individuals in academia and research institutions, the bureaucracy, and the political class to uphold constitutional values.





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